Follow these 7 rules to resolve money issues peacefully with your spouse

Couples mostly refuse to acknowledge that consensus is tougher than they can imagine. What brings them together is the contrast. The attraction towards the other stems from that difference in attitude, behaviour and approach. That switch can’t suddenly turn off to allow for agreement and consensus. Making decisions together is thus, tough. Very tough.

My husband and I stand absolutely on opposite poles. The kids tell us that this enables a 360-degree view of things. We hope that was a compliment. In the early courtship days, we reveled at things we had in common. Oh, you like that song, me too! You love the moon, oh me too! It was the romance talking. And then we got married and spent a significant number of years trying to change the other to look like us. With time, we learned to accept that we are differently wired, and let the other be. We have been happier after letting go.

But everyday living is not easy when you are studies in contrast. Life calls upon the family to make too many decisions and it doesn’t help when both of us think completely differently about every single issue. He wanted us to buy a house and settle down. I wanted us to simply rent and be nomadic. He liked living in the same city. I wanted the view outside the window to change from time to time. He loves the familiar. I thrive on uncertainty. Make some rules to make sure you aren’t wasting time and breath forcing the other to consent with your point of view.

First, we acknowledged that joint decisions won’t work. We just split the decisions in the middle. One decides and the other simply follows. He decided that his parents will live with us. I followed and remained devoted to my in-laws for all the many years they lived with us. It was tough. But I could take care of my parents, visit them, spend on them, fund their needs and so on as the husband knew I was taking care of my in-laws. Such trade-offs are not spelt out but help immensely, trust me. The rule is to not crib.

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Second, acknowledge the other’s strength and allow that to play in the interest of the family. I manage the money, make investment decisions and drive saving goals. He manages all relationships, negotiates our choices, humours friends and relatives. We took time before we let go. But it helps to divide work rather than romanticize doing everything together. We know who is in charge and we try to respect that. At the end of the year, when I read out the investment performance, he quips, “That’s all?” And I fume. Who says couples can find the magic formula to peace?

Third, hold back from saying those dreadful words—I told you so. Everyone walks a different path in life. Their attitudes are moulded by their unique experiences. One cannot, simply cannot, force the other to think about something in a specific manner to arrive at a decision. Some decisions work out fine; some turn out to be horrible. Regret is a tough emotion to deal with. You don’t want your loved one to sulk with the benefit of hindsight. So let decisions be made and let’s move on. Be warned this is the toughest rule to implement.

Fourth, practice discussing an issue without turning the heat up. The credit card has been paid for the minimum due. The bank account has surplus lying idle. The fourth television has been ordered, succumbing to a price deal. An expensive necklace has been picked up on impulse. The list of things that can flare up is endless. Learn to let the other deny, hide, suffer quietly in guilt, show false bravado, justify. Watch without being involved. Then find a calmer occasion, over some tea or wine, or a walk along the beach to bring it up and discuss it. Listen and empathise. Offer help. Make your point known firmly. And hope it won’t repeat.

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Fifth, identify a fire fighting issue immediately and take over. You catch the other routinely overspending on the credit cards; you find that bills are never paid on time; you find an addiction that is taking a dangerous turn; you notice that stock trading is slowly becoming an obsession; you find quitting the job seems to be a preferred solution to boss problems; and so on. You cannot crib and complain, or wring your hands in despair. You take over. You set new rules. The other has demonstrated that they can’t decide well. In a calmer discussion, you will find the other willing to let you draw the boundaries for their unacceptable behaviours. Don’t be eager to change the other, but influence you can and you must.

Sixth, allow time to play out and enable better vision. This is challenging for couples that refuse to give their relationships the years needed for ageing and ripening well. We cannot judge the other by just one instance. Such generalisations are usually wrong. It is over time that you notice patterns of behaviour and understand. You also figure out what you want to trade-off for what. There is nothing like perfection. Angels and demons live together in all our hearts and minds. As we live together we impact, influence and mould the other in ways we don’t control. Allow for things to settle down with time, and for roles and responsibilities to be modified with experiences.

Seventh, shared values and ethics are critical for your well being. You like simple living and your partner is a consumerist junkie; you like an honest profession, but your partner is corrupt; you don’t like to put up a pretence, but your partner loves to brag. So many are trapped into these impossible situations. Some give up; some ignore and carve their own spaces; some accept that things cannot be changed. Conflicts are high when you are seriously mismatched. These high order issues are not resolved by narrow rules in a flimsy column.

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Relationships are complex. There is no generalising how couples will work together. Some like division of roles; some want seamless exchange of tasks. Some accept authority easily; some won’t settle for anything less than equality. Some like discussing an issue to resolution; some let the unsaid drive the path. Knowing that the other is an independent thinking person with their own approach to a problem, is the respect we learn to cultivate and nurture. Rest is detail.

(The writer is Chairperson, Centre for Investment Education and Learning)



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